Lewd pranksters interrupt live TV storm coverage

Staff WriterAugust 30, 2011 

When covering a major hurricane, TV reporters can typically expect to encounter high winds, flood waters and falling trees.

They don't usually expect potty-mouthed prank-callers and full-frontal nudity.

But that's what happened over the weekend during live television news coverage of Hurricane Irene.

At WRAL on Saturday, anchors Pam Saulsby and Bill Leslie took a live on-air call they thought to be from Ernie Seneca, spokesman for N.C. Emergency Management. Saulsby asked the faux "Seneca" for a breakdown of what people riding out the storm on the Outer Banks should do to keep safe. The caller began citing the number of people on the coast without power, then gave advice on how to deal with rising waters.

So far, so good.

Then this: "The storm is caused by a draft of wind from Howard Stern's (offensive term used to describe an area of Howard Stern's posterior)."

Er, that wasn't Ernie Seneca.

Nimble WRAL engineers hit the mute button, and the anchors immediately went on to another topic.

Tom Cipriano, better known as "Captain Janks" from the Howard Stern radio show, claims credit for the call. Video of it is making the rounds online.

The real Ernie Seneca said he began getting calls shortly after the interview, including from a co-worker who said the caller did not sound like him. Seneca said he has a good sense of humor and took it stride.

"There are a lot more important things in life than some jokester," he said.

WRAL was not amused. Jim Rothschild, director of station operations, said, "It's unfortunate that at a time when we are trying to get emergency information out to viewers who need that information, that someone would attempt to take the situation lightly."

So far, the streaker who showed his stuff for a national Weather Channel audience during Eric Fisher's hurricane safety report, has not been identified - much to the relief of his poor mother.

As Fisher complained about the partylike atmosphere at Virginia Beach, Va., on Saturday during the dangerous storm, a group of young men ran behind him in bathing suits. One of them pulled down his trunks and turned to face the camera before running away.

"I'm pretty much speechless at what we've been seeing," Fisher said. Footage of that incident, too, has been viewed online.

Captain Janks is well known for calling live radio and TV shows across the nation and dropping Howard Stern's name, usually in an obscene way. The calls are then replayed for laughs on Stern's Sirius XM satellite radio show.

Captain Janks made similar prank calls to CBS 3 in Philadelphia and CBS 2 in New York this weekend, each time pretending to be an official spokesman.

In the New York call, a female anchor was asked whether she would (have relations with) Stern. The caller was immediately cut off and acknowledged as a prankster.

Folks in Philly weren't quite as quick to catch on. In that call, Janks posed as Atlantic City emergency management director Tom Foley and said the city planned to let residents return to their homes Monday as long as there were "no downed trees, no flooding, no rumblings from Howard Stern's (slightly less offensive term for part of Stern's anatomy)."

Anchor Ericka von Tiehl laughed and replied that the city had "dodged a bullet," but anchor Ukee Washington was more skeptical. "Is this Tom Foley?" he asked. "I don't think so." To which the caller responded, "No (expletive), Sherlock."

bcain@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4579

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